Vikings free agency: low-risk, short-term

The Vikings were patient in free agency and made no long-term commitments with their recent signings. The draft is where they will really build.

The Vikings have entered an acquisition era over the last two weeks, but it’s far from a high-risk spending spree.

In essence, their free-agent plan, as foretold by general manager Rick Spielman prior to the draft, is unfolding about as expected. They were, as predicted, patient in the opening phase while other teams were bleeding money for new players, with Ndamukong Suh and Darrelle Revis the big prizes for the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets, respectively.

The Vikings did as Spielman said – “lay in the weeds” and wait for prices to drop unless “something unique” presents itself. The Mike Wallace trade was that flurry of Friday uniqueness, as Spielman rushed home from Ohio State’s pro day to put the finishing touches on a deal that first became an idea that morning.

But since the Wallace trade and Jennings release, the Vikings’ moves have been unspectacular yet useful.

Their signings since then have plugged holes in the roster without creating holes in the salary-cap bucket.

The biggest deal, surprisingly, went to cornerback Terence Newman. Why surprisingly? Because his signing bucks the Vikings past trend of not wanting to sign (non-quarterback) players into their 30s, and Newman is well into his 30s – he will be 37 by the start of the season. But familiarity with head coach Mike Zimmer has its advantages. Still, despite guaranteeing $750,000 to Newman in his $2.25 million contract, there are no long-term ramifications. He is signed for one year and a $1.4 million base salary with per-game bonuses for being active.

It was hardly a big risk, but it was still as far out on a limb as the Vikings went with their recent signings. The other unrestricted free agents were also one-year deals but had little guaranteed money.

Casey Matthews might be able to compete for a starting job at middle linebacker, but he has no long-term guarantees. He signed a one-year contract for the veteran minimum $825,000 with only a $55,000 roster bonus if he is on the 53-man roster for any game and a $25,000 workout bonus. Better yet from a cap-structuring standpoint, he counts only $665,000 under the veteran minimum benefit.

Just as familiarity had its privileges for Newman, the same was the case with safety Taylor Mays. He signed a one-year deal for only $745,000 in base salary with $200,000 in playing-time incentives and a $25,000 bonus for being on the 53-man roster for any game.

Without too much competition from other teams, Babtunde Aiyebusi, the massive (6-foot-9, 351-pound) Polish-born offensive lineman, signed a standard deal that simply gives him a chance without a risk for the Vikings. He has minimum salaries of $435,000, then $525,000 and $615,0000 in his three-year deal. No bonuses and no dead money if the Vikings release him at any time.

The deals for QB Mike Kafka and defensive end Caesar Rayford are expected to produce more of the same: no risk, short-term contracts. In fact, after Shaun Hill ($2.2 million) and Newman ($750,000), none of the Vikings’ free-agent signings carried any risk or dead money if they are cut before or during the season.

It’s an indication that, despite a flurry of low-level signings over the last two weeks, the Vikings still plan to build their roster mostly through the draft and offer second-level depth options through free agency.

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